POWER-ful Allies: Utility Arborists Bring Valuable Perspective to the Council Board

The Council is tremendously pleased that three utility arborists have joined the Board: Orange and Rockland Utilities Manager of Vegetation Management Mark Beamish, NYSEG Lead Analyst Vegetation Manager Jeff Bell, and PSEG Long Island Forestry Supervisor Larry Ferrandiz.

Council Vice President and National Grid Senior Arborist Brian Skinner has, for more than two decades, provided a pivotal liaison role between the NYSUFC and the utility arboriculture world. He and fellow Council stalwart Marty Mullarkey helped the Council–and New York at large–see that utilities and communities can work together to build the urban forest while maintaining safe and efficient power delivery.

Skinner says, “While National Grid has been a big part of the Board for the past 20 years, it’s a great time and opportunity to have such wide representation for our other statewide electric and/or gas providers representing such diverse parts of the state. Their participation on the Council will demonstrate that utilities and communities exist in a partnership that can greatly benefit both. Hopefully, the knowledge that National Grid has shared with those on the Council will continue to grow that much more with these new partners on board.”

Skinner posed three questions to his fellow utility arborists: What do you bring to the Council Board? How can utilities help shape the thought processes behind community tree plantings? and, What programs or opportunities does your utility offer to promote “Right Tree, Right Place” plantings?

Mark Beamish teaching first graders about trees
ORU’s Mark Beamish teaching first graders about trees at Rutherford Elementary in Monticello

What do you as a utility arborist bring to the table of this organization? 

Mark Beamish: I hope to bring the utility perspective more to the Council and to the communities we serve on a larger scope. The NY utilities are an active participant in urban forestry and complete a significant amount of tree work per year, but I feel the utility perspective is missing at times or very misunderstood. I’m hoping to bring utility arborist communication and understanding perspective to the group.

Jeff Bell: As a utility arborist I bring to the organization education around and experience with tree conflicts with overhead utility wires. I have witnessed the adverse social and economic impacts of incompatible tree conditions within electrical rights-of-way. While working for a utility I strive to deliver safe and reliable electric supply. My daily tasks expose me to conditions of prior poor planning and incorrect species selection of street tree plantings. Often I believe these practices took place years ago before the “Right Tree, Right Place” philosophy became a standard practice like it is today. Through education and public outreach I aim to enable communities, municipalities, and land owners to make educated tree planting decisions and allow trees and utility lines to co-exist and avoid utility conflicts for years to come.

Larry Ferrandiz: Utility Arborists in general are public service people who not only bring their forestry knowledge but also experience with government and community relations. We work from the perspective of “project-level” arboriculture, which addresses tree work on a large scale, along with its environmental, social, and political implications. Also, being part of a much larger public service organization, utility arborists often have access to resources and personnel which further enhance their contribution to community forestry.

Do you think utilities can help shape the thought processes behind community tree plantings?  
Beamish: Absolutely! Any community tree planting effort should be a labor of love, and there is a significant cost associated with the planning, planting, and maintenance of the trees. At the same time, the utility has an obligation for safety and the reliable delivery of electricity to every customer we serve. To not work in conjunction and cooperation with each other is an opportunity lost. By working together, the time, cost, and energy involved in planting new community trees can lead to a healthy and diverse urban forest compatible with power transmission.

Bell: I believe utilities can help shape the thought process behind community tree plantings by offering a unique perspective of what the best suited tree could be for the given planting location. Often urban forestry involves planting between the sidewalk and the curb. More often than not, there are either overhead or underground utility lines that can interfere with the ultimate success of the tree. By getting involved and recommending specific tree species to plant near utilities and offering species variety to towns, villages, and residences, we can assist all shareholders in achieving their goals of establishing a greater tree canopy. One of my objectives is to get proactive and educate community members about the pros and cons of planting and maintaining trees near the electric lines. Understanding what the tree is going to look like in 30 or so years may change the thought process of plantings—and avoid conflicts with overhead utilities in the future. Proper planting of trees and shrubs is often the best long-term investment for reducing heating and cooling costs and also conserves energy, which in turn saves money!

Does your utility have any unique programs or opportunities to promote “Right Tree, Right Place” plantings?

Beamish: Orange and Rockland does a significant amount of public outreach and communication through participation at home shows, Earth Day fairs, Arbor Day celebrations, and other venues where a communication point can be set up. We also communicate the “Right Tree, Right Place” message through customer mailings. Orange and Rockland also has additional information and links through our website, and we have also run “Right Tree, Right Place” spots on the radio. Orange and Rockland takes our role as a promoter of proper arboricultural work seriously, and we are committed to a safe, reliable, and storm-resistant community forest.

Jeff Bell planting a tree with his daughter
Jeff Bell planting a tree with his daughter in 2010

Bell: Recently NYSEG has begun a public outreach program to promote the “Right Tree, Right Place” philosophy. Collectively throughout all of NYSEG and RG&E service territories, our company has issued a total of 1,250 tree saplings to elementary school students throughout the state and planted 21 larger caliper trees in Hamburg, Auburn, Elmira, and Norwich, just to name a few. We like to get the children involved and educated at an early age as they will be able to enjoy our works of today in the next generation to come. NYSEG plans to grow this program from year to year and achieve our goal of becoming a Tree line USA-accredited utility administered by the Arbor Day Foundation in the near future.

Ferrandiz: The Long Island electric utility has supported a “Wire-Friendly Tree” rebate program for local municipalities since 1994. We have co-funded the planting of over 17,000 correctly sited trees under our power lines in  this program.

We also began to participate in the Arbor Day Foundation’s “Energy Saving Trees” program just last year. We gave out 1000 trees to customers for planting in locations that will assist them with energy conservation into the future.

 

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